This coming Sunday is Pentecost when the Church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit to the first Christians. The key text for today (Acts 2:1-21) begins by declaring that the disciples were all together in one place. Alas we are not all together in one place this year indeed we are all over the place but notwithstanding that I hope we are not all at sea!
The text speaks of the gift of the Spirit in terms of fire-a fire of love-not one blast but tongues of fire-to each disciple a flame-a gift or as we might say a charisma of the Holy Spirit. All God’s people are charismatics. The Church is a charismatic community.
The gift of the Spirit is a gift of diversity-to each disciple his own flame. Not only does the Holy Spirit make us all one he makes us each different. Life together in the Church is a world of joy and blessing as we enrich each other with the gifts entrusted to us and receive from others the gifts entrusted to them.
But the gift of the Holy Spirit is also a gift of unity. The Holy Spirit makes the many to be one body in Christ. Confusion and misunderstanding of the kind described in the story of the tower of Babel (Genesis11) is ended in the dramatic manner described in Acts 2. Henceforth the believers are united in heart and soul and have all things in common.
St Paul writes that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. This could be read as a warning not to restrict our understanding of the Spirit to rigid and simplistic definitions.
I was rather surprised, indeed shocked, when I received a mailing some years ago which advertised this service:
“A ministry to women using beauty therapy and pampering to leave women refreshed, relaxed and with a renewed experience of the Holy Spirit.”
Here the Holy Spirit has become nothing more than that which gives us a personal buzz-this is a long way from the Spirit which Jesus sends. That Spirit as the church understands it is not all about me it is instead about igniting a fire of self-giving love within our hearts and shared in true fellowship not only within the people of God but with all our neighbours.
Of course the Holy Spirit has no clear form-we can’t grasp it or make a picture of it as we can with the person of Jesus. It’s much more like the air we breathe-we enjoy its presence, we even bemoan its absence but it gives life to the Church and points us to Jesus whose gift it is.